5 Questions: Secret Wilderness

DC multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer Jake Reid is no stranger to the concept of sound as narrative. Even in the halcyon days of Alcian Blue, when Jake played feedback-drenched guitar and sang about esoteric concepts like  “Frozen Sleep” or “Terminal Escape,” it was always apparent the real story was being told not through lyrics, but through ominous clouds of billowing noise. Screen Vinyl Image married Jake’s love of blistering fuzz with John Carpenter-esque electronics and driving beats. Still, the story was the sound.

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All this isn’t to say that the lyrics didn’t matter. It’s just that the sounds themselves – all those jaw-dropping textures of mind-melting modern psychedelia – communicated real emotion and feeling. And so it’s not surprising that Jake has become increasingly focused on building strange sonic worlds that do all the communicating for him. In recent years, Jake has honed his craft for making dark, pulsating electronic dance music under the guise Machine Drift.

A few months ago, Jake unveiled a new solo electronic project: Secret Wilderness. This latest project is the starkest signal yet of Jake’s growing comfort in harnessing sound to create incredible images and feelings in the minds and hearts of listeners.

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Secret Wilderness recently self-released two cassette tapes via Jake’s own Ice Station Records imprint — “Low End Surrealism” and “Secret Wilderness.” As a long-time fan of Jake’s work, it gives me great joy to say that Secret Wilderness may be his most satisfying and strange yet.

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And this time, Jake’s work extends beyond sound. The Secret Wilderness aesthetic also encompasses featured art by Jake’s brother-in-law Justin Dodd. I asked Jake to tell me more…

1) You had been making solo electronic music as Machine Drift for several years. What was the impetus for starting Secret Wilderness?

Jake: I used Machine Drift as a name while exploring various genres in electronic music and documenting some recordings. The latest two releases I put out felt cohesive but different from the earlier stuff, it seemed like the right time to change the name.

2) The Secret Wilderness aesthetic encompasses more than just music. It’s also visual art. Can you talk a little about what led you to define Secret Wilderness beyond sound?

Jake: My brother-in-law Justin has been doing all of this great art out of NYC. Once I figured out what the new project was going to be, I wanted to have a visual aesthetic to match the music and his work was perfect. He gave me permission to use it and that’s how it came together.

I also have a degree in design and felt a need to reconnect with it which is how the newspaper came about. It’s a collection of photos I took of places Kim and I have traveled to. I’d take these photos and memories of these places and how they made me feel back to the studio and think about them I was working. I think Monongahela is a good example of this, if you’ve ever been to that forest in WV then the music should immediately make sense and the photo I used serves as a marker for what I experienced when I was there.

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3) The minimalist electronic sounds of “Newcomb Forest” and “Currituck” remind me a little of Brian Eno’s ambient work or Cluster. On the one hand, it’s a million miles away from Screen Vinyl Image and Machine Drift. On the other — I see a common thread. You clearly have a predilection for using sound and texture to create a hypnotic effect on the listener. Would you agree with that assessment?

Jake: Definitely. I’ve had a love of ambient music since Alcian Blue days. Texture and sound experiments have always been a big part of the type of sound I want and I like all of the different ways you can approach making this type of music.

4) To what extent has your work as a sound engineer informed what you do with Secret Wilderness?

Jake: I’ve been lucky to work with a wide range of artists for audio mastering. It’s taught me to not just pay attention to notes and frequencies but understand the vibe and how to bring that out in the music for the listener. It’s a different type of creative process and it helps me put a perspective on my own work and how I want the end piece to sound.

5) Secret Wilderness had its live debut in September. What’s it been like to take this new project out in front of a live audience?

Jake: The Machine Drift shows I did were sometimes rough but that was part of the process. I’ve now gotten to a point where I can have a structure but then plenty of room to improvise on the fly and that’s when it gets interesting. It’s still nerve-wracking though because all of your stuff is connected and needs to be working. I’m used to having Kim on stage and amps roaring so to do things by yourself is still something I’m getting used to.

Listen to and purchase “Low End Surrealism” and “Secret Wilderness” via the Secret Wilderness Bandcamp page.

Check out Secret Wilderness at WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE on Friday, Dec. 7th!

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